Sunday, November 25, 2012

Behind That Curtain

Behind That Curtain, published in 1928, was the third of Earl Derr Biggers’ excellent Charlie Chan mysteries.

The great Chinese detective is in San Francisco, on holiday. He is to return to Hawaii in a few days. At the very same time a distinguished retired policeman from Scotland Yard, Sir Frederic Bruce, is also in San Francisco. A bright newspaperman decides it would make a great story if he could bring these two great detectives together. 

He does so, with momentous consequences. Sir Frederic is still trying to solve two cases that have obsessed him for years, the murder of a solicitor and the disappearance of a young woman from a picnic in Peshawar in India in 1913. He believes he may finally be close to a solution to both mysteries. Both Sir Fredric and Charlie Chan are invited to a dinner in honour of the eminent British explorer Colonel John Beetham. Colonel Beetham is screening moving pictures taken on his expeditions, and while the lights are out Sir Frederic Bruce is murdered.

Charlie Chan is anxious to return to Honolulu but he gets drawn into the case. It is clear that Captain of Detectives Flannery has no chance of solving this puzzle on his own.

Chan suspects (as Sir Frederic had suspected) that there is a link between the two cases that Sir Frederic had still been working on. But what can the link be?

As in all the Charlie Chan novels the highlight of the book is the character of Detective-Sergeant Chan himself. He is one of the most engaging of all fictional detectives. Biggers was clearly very fond of his most famous creation. There is much amusing byplay between Chan and Captain Flannery. There is considerable humour in the book, but it should be emphasised that it is never at the expense of Charlie Chan (indeed much of the humour comes from Charlie’s gentle mocking of the determined but not very bright Captain Flannery).

The mystery itself is an ingenious one, typical of the golden age of detective fiction.

Biggers was a stylish writer and this is an exceptionally entertaining crime novel and is highly recommended.

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